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[PTA] Moon Town--pitch and pilot

Started by Jon Hastings, October 24, 2005, 08:47:55 PM

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Jon Hastings

So, basically, the substance of what I have to say about PTA is: "Wow.  It works."

A little more detail.

The Players:

Me, Nick, and Bryan--see this Actual Play report of our Shab-al-Hiri Roach game for all our relevant details.

Andy--Nick's and my good friend, who had never RPGed before. 

The positive experience Nick, Bryan, and I had with The Shab-al-Hiri Roach left us willing to commit to a longer-term RPG.  I suggested PTA, because (a) we all like TV and (b) I thought the heavily-structured (and finite) nature of the game would make us all more comfortable.

The Pitch Session:

We went through a bunch of different ideas--a Stephen King-ish small town horror show, a Buffy-esque show about a group of dudes who go around trying to save mythlogical creatures from a secret society of big game hunters, a show about a haunted cruise ship--before finally settling on "Moon Town": a show centering around a colony on the moon that would use the trappings of 1950s sci-fi (think Heinlein's juvenile books) in the same way that David Lynch uses 1950s soap opera in "Twin Peaks".  We weren't all exactly clear on how this would actually play out, but we were all excited to give it a try.

Protagonist Creation:

Here're the PCs we came up with:

Uecker "Old Uke" McKinley (played by Nick)--current Mayor of Moon Town and former sports hero (he was a Plasmaball Champ, as well as a former Plasmaball team owner).
Issue: self-worth, fear of incompetence: afraid he is in over his head as a mayor.
Screen Presence: 2-3-1-2-1
Edge: Folksy Charisma
Connections: Dexter Waltrip (head of security), Devon Holiday (personal secretary)
Personal Set: The Mayoral Suite
Nemesis: Maximilla Sharif--political agitator

Dwight Rosenthorpe (played by Andy)--Sheriff of Moon Town and a single parent of an out-of-control 16-yo son.
Issue: Control issues stemming from dealing with his wife's unsolved murder and not being able to raise his son.
Screen Presence: 2-2-1-3-1
Edge: Parent
Connections: Hapless Deputy, Single woman he knows from the PTA who's the mother of his son's friend (possible romantic interest) (The names for these characters are in my notes somewhere).
Personal Set: His office

Victor Kent (played by Bryan)--a documentary filmmaker/sociologist from Earth, who has come to Moon Town to do a special report on the colony for the Earth government.
Issue: Avoids responsibility by taking risks.
Screen Presence: 2-1-3-2-1
Edges: Expert Documentarian
Connections: Jimmy the Tooth (Earth gangster who is after Victor because Victor left the planet owing him money), Victor's Girlfriend (who Victor left behind, after he found out she was pregnant).
Personal Set: the local Moon Town bar

Like the Pitch Session, this whole process went pretty smoothly.

The Pilot:

So, we started the show with Victor Kent approaching Moon Town on the Earth-Moon shuttle.  On the ship with him was the current teeny-bopper pop music superstar from Earth, who was making an historical appearance on the moon to celebrate Moon Town's 20th Anniversary.  Various things happen, and we get to the meat of the pilot: someone blows up the pop superstar, sending all of Moon Town into chaos.  By the end of the episode, we had even managed to work in the weird, David Lynch-type touches we had brought up during the pitch session.

The entire episode went really smoothly.  Everyone picked up pretty quickly on the focus-agenda-location aspect of scene framing.  We didn't have much trouble with conflicts or setting stakes.  One small issue was that sometimes the players would "play through" a conflict, and I would have to say, "Hold on: let's back up a sec and do that as a conflict."  Another "problem" was that the players had almost too many good ideas, so some were left on the cutting room floor.  I think that's a pretty good problem to have, though.

Some other thoughts, concerns, and observations:

1. About halfway through the episode, I started to encourage the players to give fanmail, because they really weren't doing it that much, but they were saying things like "That's cool" and "Good idea".  I don't think this will be an issue during the second episode.

2. I was really impressed by how well Andy picked up on the system.  He was especially strong in bringing his character's issue to the fore.  For example, during a scene where the agenda was "The Sheriff interrogates the Mayor about the murder" (the Mayor had witnessed the bombing/murder), I introduced a conflict by having the Mayor's nemesis, the social agitator, try to bust her way into the Sheriff's office, demanding that the Mayor answer tough questions about the bombing.

Nick set the Mayor's stakes as: "Rally and put on a good front".  Nick set the Sheriff's stakes as: "Assert my authority".  They both lost the conflict, and Andy won narration.  Andy narrated that the Sheriff's son used this opportunity to start harassing his dad, and so the Sheriff, distracted by his son, was unable to deal effectively with the Mayor's nemesis.  I thought this was pretty cool, because I had thrown a conflict at them that didn't explicitly deal with the Sheriff's issue, but Andy managed to weave it into the resolution in a very effective way.

3. We ended the pilot with a mystery left unresolved (who bombed the pop star?), but I don't think any of us want the focus of the show to be about "solving" it--this isn't a detective/investigation show.  Rather, the mystery is there as a kind of MacGuffin.

So, here's my problem: I don't want the players to get concerned with having to (a) come up with a cool solution so that they can (b) have their characters solve it.  I also don't want to come up with my own "solution" and have the players grope around in the dark for it.  I was thinking that we could just lay it all out in the open, but, in that case, I'd be afraid that if we all know that the solution is X, everyone will be over-concerned with making sure we connect the dots so we get to X during play.

Right now, I'm thinking of two possible ways of dealing with this. 1) I might try to wrap up the mystery during the opening scene next episode, and use the fall-out from the solution to drive the episode's conflict.  2) I might suggest we just leave the mystery hanging until the final episode, and have it floating in the background.

I'd be interested to know if anyone else has dealt with mystery-type stuff in PTA.  (Funnily enough, we vetoed some of the show ideas in the pitch session because we didn't want to have to come up with mysteries...)

4. I had a couple of weird moments when my brain went into "Old Skool" RPGing mode.  Some of them had to do with the mystery plot: I'd realize that I was keeping something to myself (i.e. a clue that the PCs needed to uncover), when I should have just said: "Okay, here's this clue that you find."

But my biggest old school "duh" moment came during PC creation.  I was sure that the players would all take 2 edges and 1 connection, because, you know, edges are stuff that you're awesome at, and connections are, you know, like, such a drag.  After each player took 2 connections and 1 edge, I realized I was thinking of connections as if they were Champions DNPCs.

Anyway, we had lots of fun, and I'm looking forward to out next session.

John Harper

Wow. This is great stuff. This is what I mean when I go off ranting about how non-gamers "get" games like PTA so easily. Kudos to you for putting together such a swell group of players.

I would love to watch this show. Maybe some day, somewhere, someone will create a PTA show that I wouldn't watch, but I doubt it.

The mystery thing is tricky. I kind of tried to do a mystery show when we were playtesting PTA (Bridgewater) but to be honest, I don't think I handled it quite right. I think your instincts are good. You don't want the show to turn into old-skool clue hunting. And you don't want to force everyone to connect the dots. If the "mystery" really isn't that key to the show, then I would just have the Sheriff (or whomever) deal with it as a simple conflict. The bad guy gets tracked down and caught, or escapes -- mystery over, move on.

Or, if you want it as background (like Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks) then just say that. "The dead pop star is background setting to highlight the problems of Moon Town. Let's not try to solve it, but just use the murder/investigation to drive conflicts and throw characters together." That should work too.
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